Neil Thackaberry takes on Teddy Roosevelt's many sides in the Actors' Summit production of Bully. Amber Matheson
As the co-artistic director and founder of Actors' Summit, Neil Thackaberry gets positively giddy talking about the theater's next production. That's because Thackaberry himself will showcase the different stages of Teddy Roosevelt's life in the one-man play Bully, which takes the stage Jan. 19 through Feb. 5. "I'm just fascinated by the history," he says. "There are amazing opportunities for me to read and learn and hopefully pass on some of that to the audience." He talks to us about some of his favorite Roosevelt moments.
1| Leader of the Rough Riders
"Charging up San Juan Hill is pretty damn cool. You've got guns, people getting shot," Thackaberry says. Roosevelt put together a group that included full-blooded Cherokee Indians, mayors, gunslingers and Harvard football players to create the Rough Riders. "He said there were Catholics, Protestants and Jews, Eastern college men and Western cowboys, and soon, many of them would be buried in a common grave as Americans. And that kind of typifies what his approach to America was."
"I'm not just playing the president," says Thackaberry. "The presidency was 7 1/2 years out of this incredible life." While Roosevelt wanted to stay governor of New York, others in politics were looking for a way to remove him from that office. Getting William McKinley to choose him as his running mate was their answer. "He really thought he'd been put out to pasture and his political career ruined for at least eight years," Thackaberry says. No one could have predicted that McKinley would be assassinated and Roosevelt would ascend to the presidency.
3| Big-game Hunter
"It's very difficult for the modern audience to accept," notes Thackaberry. "This great conservationist was also this big-game hunter who just shot a whole lot of animals on safari." Roosevelt was an "adrenaline junky," says Thackaberry. "He says, 'I was sickly and awkward and unable to hold my own when thrown into contact with other little boys.' So in reaction against that, he set out to make himself over."